Questions From Readers
● What is the meaning of Amos 8:9? Is this prophecy to be taken literally?—S. P., United States.
Amos 8:9 reads: “‘And it must occur in that day,’ is the utterance of the Lord Jehovah, ‘that I will make the sun go down at high noon, and I will cause darkness for the land on a bright day.’” This scripture quite clearly refers to Armageddon. At that time, when the enemies of Jehovah God are expecting to have a bright time, as at high noon when the sun is at its zenith, Jehovah God causes darkness to befall his enemies and destroys all their hopes. It brings them to ruin. It does not necessarily mean a literal darkness, although Jehovah God doubtless will do some strange things in the realm of nature during the universal war of Armageddon.
● In the Watchtower article of September 15, 1956, “Marriage Ceremony and Requirements,” paragraph 20 states that a consensual wife who accepts the truth and wants to have the marriage legalized and registered, but cannot get the man she lives with to agree, may sign a written statement that she will be faithful to her consensual marriage partner as to a husband and will get the marriage legalized as soon as she can get the man to legalize it, and then she may be baptized. Does this apply in all countries of the world, to all or any forms of consensual marriage?
The Watchtower was here discussing consensual marriage and showed a difference between it and common-law marriage. This same paragraph was referred to in the Watchtower of November 15, 1960, under the heading “The Need for Legalizing Marriage.”
While common-law marriage is legally recognized in some states or provinces of the land and is a legal marriage, in other states or provinces of that land or in other lands it may not be recognized as legal. Therefore the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society requires that those living together in common-law marriage should have a legal marriage ceremony performed and that this should be definitely registered in the registry of the civil government. Not before then will the Watch Tower Society recognize the dedication by the parties to common-law marriage and consider them worthy of water baptism and admission to the New World society. This procedure will provide for proper legal standing for their children in any land or state and is in full accord with the law of God.
However, if a woman who is living in common-law marriage in a state where common-law marriages are recognized as legal is not successful in persuading her common-law husband to have the marriage legally registered, the Society makes a concession. It allows such a woman who learns the truth to present evidence to the congregation committee that she has made a conscientious effort to persuade her common-law partner to register the marriage legally. The congregation committee will then allow her to sign a declaration vowing faithfulness in marriage relationship to the unwilling man and she may be accepted for baptism and share in the activities of the congregation. The same would hold true for a man who cannot get his common-law wife to register the marriage.
In states or provinces where common-law marriage is not recognized as legal, unmarried persons living together consensually or by mutual consent would be living together in fornication. Such persons cannot be admitted to baptism by the New World society until they have legalized their position with an appropriate legal marriage ceremony. There is no law preventing them from legalizing their marriage, since they are single persons. In all lands single persons have the privileges of marriage; so this legal marriage requirement applies in all parts of the world. Therefore in such cases the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society does not accept a signed statement from single persons living together consensually. They must either have the appropriate legal marriage ceremony or else separate, before they may be accepted for water baptism.
If one of the parties to the consensual cohabitation would happen to be still legally married to someone else, he or she would be required to obtain a divorce decree dissolving the legal marriage by the laws of the land and then get legally married to the consensual partner before presenting himself for water baptism.
In certain lands under strict religious domination no divorces are allowed. It sometimes happens that an undivorced married person has been living for many years with a single person because his legal mate deserted him and took up living in adultery with someone else. This undivorced person then comes to a knowledge of the truth and wants to serve Jehovah. But he is unable by law to obtain a divorce. He may have a family in his consensual union and in fact the woman may also desire to serve Jehovah and raise the children in the admonition of Jehovah. In such lands we have made the concession to the pair who are living together without the benefit of marriage when they learn the truth.
Though unable to get a divorce from a legal married mate, they must take whatever legal steps are available to record the separation from the legal married mate; and then they must write a confession and set forth a declaration vowing faithfulness to each other in the marriage arrangement and that they will stay together despite legal ties to others which cannot be dissolved according to the existing law. They must also agree to having their relationship to each other legalized as soon as the legal obstacle would be removed, which would mean the death of the separated legal marriage mate.
We do this because the country’s law is unreasonably prohibitive and refuses divorce because it does not recognize God’s law, which allows divorce on the grounds of fornication or adultery. If the couple had been living in another land where divorce was available they would doubtless have straightened out their marital situation long before now and presented themselves to the New World society as legally married persons. Because of Jesus’ statement at Matthew 19:8, 9, the Society has made this concession, and we trust this meets with God’s approval.
Suppose an individual is living in such consensual arrangement, where the legal obstacle exists in a land where there is no divorce. If now he should learn the truth but the one with whom he is living does not recognize the truth and will not cooperate in signing a written statement vowing faithfulness, then the New World society will accept a statement signed by just the person who has learned the truth and who wants to make a dedication and serve God. It is in such consensual union situation that the declaration vowing faithfulness is accepted, as mentioned in paragraph 20, page 573, of the September 15, 1956, Watchtower. The declaration would not be accepted in a land where divorce is permitted under the law.
(Congregations having Kingdom Service Questions on file should make a note of this matter in the booklet for future reference, especially in connection with page 11.)